Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chasing Happiness

This guy's not worried about climbing the mountain; he's just enjoying the view.

When a 5 year old works on a sand castle on the beach all afternoon, is she preoccupied with thinking what it’ll look like when it’s completed? How accomplished she’ll feel once it’s done? No. She enjoys the act of creating it and focuses her attention on the process, not the outcome.

I recently watched this terrific Ted Talk that discusses how we basically pluck happiness out of our lives by focusing an inordinate amount on the outcomes in life, which by definition we do not fully control. We influence it, of course, but at least part of any outcome relies on outside factors outside our control. The process, on the other hand, is completely our own. It is our choice to either find joy in it and accept that things may not (and usually don’t) go as planned, or to spend our lives fighting it, consumed with thoughts of how our lives should be, if only our desired outcome occurs.

Now, this focus on the outcome is something that we’ve grown accustomed to for a long time. The focus on report cards, trying out for the school play, an attempt to make the science team in 4th grade were the outcomes that we placed value on, and in doing so, much of the appreciation for the process is sapped.

Are there outcomes I’d like to see in my life? Are there goals I’d like to achieve and a firm belief that I can? Yes, absolutely. Yet when I think back on goals and outcomes that have gone my way in the past, the initial thrill is intoxicating, and I’m overjoyed. The euphoria doesn’t tend to last, though, and before I know it, I’m thinking about what next to achieve in order to get a similar high. The cycle is never ending, if we allow it to be. 

What I’ve learned and enjoyed along the way, though, is what really stays with me. The most beautiful thing about this concept is that every single day can be a part of a process towards something; whether that something ever happens doesn’t end up mattering. 

Lesson #47: recognize the simplicity and beauty of enjoying the process, for example, of cooking fresh vegetables from a farmer’s market instead of obsessing over how great it’ll be when you weigh 10 less pounds. Maybe eating those vegetables will in fact help you lose weight, but you’re missing the pleasure if that’s the thought process.  If we’re focused on climbing the proverbial mountain simply to say we’ve done it, we end up not really experiencing much at all.

Strangely, this way of thinking actually helps embolden my choices in life. The fear of failure is less prominent when I don’t think in a binary manner, focusing on how one choice might affect an outcome. Instead, I have faith that enjoyment of the process will lead to good outcomes enough of the time; and if those outcomes aren’t realized, that’s fine - I had a damn good time along the way.


  1. Well said pupps! Though your great blog posts serve as a vehicle for procrastination while I'm working on "the process" this lovely (slightly hungover) Sunday.

  2. I wish I could say that the process of getting over a hangover had anything enjoyable to it, but this may be the sole exception where the process just plain sucks. It does, however, give us more time to reflect on the previous night and just how many shots of whiskey were consumed. :)